Sometimes, the Indian press confuses me. Last week, there was the headline: “Satyam Is Back on Track” on SIFY.com. That semi-editorial gives its byline to India’s “Business Standard” article entitled: “A Long Way to Recovery,” regarding the “release” of Satyam’s financials for the last two years — financials that have yet to be filed officially with the SEC or anybody else.
Now, if I read this correctly, Satyam has lost $1.75 billion (USD) since 2008. However, from 2009 to 2010, it grossed $1.1 billion with a profit of over 8% — exceeding analysts’ expectations.
Didn’t Satyam stop paying employees for a short time at the outset of the scandal in January 2009? Then, it started laying off workers while others plain quit. Then, Satyam started hiring new workers like mad because it had so much work to do. If I recall correctly, Satyam said that it had retained all of its major clients; and by July 2009, it also reported that revenues were adequate to maintain its workforce of over 40,000 employees. Now we learn that 17,000 workers left Satyam, reducing the headcount to 27,000 from 44,000 in fiscal ’08-’09.
Then, during the World Cup in South Africa this year, Satyam, as a major corporate sponsor (recall those flashing video billboards along the field during the final match?), announced that it had actually won new contracts as a result of the media exposure.
In fact, Mahindra couldn’t buy all of the shares it needed to own Satyam outright because Satyam shares were doing so well in 2009. As of today, it still hasn’t bought a controlling interest, though no one in the media seems to have noticed the difference between owning a large part of Satyam’s shares and owning a majority stake outright. (I may be quibbling since no one seems to care about details, apparently.)
A couple of weeks ago, Satyam notified the SEC that it would be delisting itself from the NYSE because of its inability to file financial reports for the last two years. But, lo and behold, early last week, Satyam was able to quantify the amount of money it lost over the last two years! And now, it’s making more money than most people expected!
There are a couple basic problems I have with the Satyam story so far: First, when I was younger studying this sort of thing, to calculate a loss, we usually had to have some idea of what we made, too. Put the two together, and you have what is called a “consolidated” profit-loss statement.
Unless I’m mistaken, this is what the regulators of the major financial markets are looking for, right? But Satyam said they wouldn’t have anything close to this until November 15, at the earliest. Did someone work overtime and stuff everything into a spreadsheet over the week-end?
The second problem I’m having is this: Satyam appears to have been a going concern for years. The Rajus were raking in the big bucks. Ramalinga Raju (“Bombay Bernie”) was lauded for his largesse. On top of that, his sons were investing in big real estate (the definition of “real” wealth in his neck of the woods), and everyone was getting paid (or paid off, depending on who you were) on time and in full.
So, the money was coming from somewhere.
In real life, it’s possible to beg, borrow, and steal only so much before the bottom lines catches up. But as I noted earlier, Satyam’s bottom line has continued to pay the bills and employees; and, in fact, it’s been announced that Satyam’s margin is a very respectable 8%. So, what was the fraud?
Well, besides hiding a big portion of revenues from auditors and regulators to buy lots of suits and shoes, a lot of money went somewhere. Where? To whom?
Here’s my suspicion: the “to whom” part is driving the scandal’s investigation. There’s got to be a reason why Indian authorities and press are so confusing and thumpingly contradictory about their reports and findings. I mean, the rest of the Western world hires India to run its outsourced financial systems, for Pete’s sake! The only explanations are: 1) Someone there is incapable of forensic accounting; or 2) Indian authorities don’t want anyone to understand, hence figure out, what the heck is going on.
Now, the US does have a small stake in all of this.
US regulators could come to the defense of the poor American investors who were burned/continue to be burned by this scandal via their investments in Satyam ADRs. In addition, US regulators could come to the assistance of millions of investors all over the world who were burned by “India’s Enron.”
But since the current Secretary of State is on the record as saying that outsourcing is a reality that America needs to accept and that India is that outsourcer, and since the US President is going to India in the next few weeks to express friendship and support (while smoothing over hurt feelings over the H-1B vote in Congress), we shouldn’t hold our breaths
Besides, Satyam’s (now Mahindra-Satyam’s) expertise in finance is so stellar, it continues to provide its assistance to many US companies who would hate to see anything happen to their favorite outsourcer.
Put that calculator away. Like the insurance company on TV, the only thing that matters is the price you pay to get the answers that you want or need. How’s that for customer service? How’s that for accountability?
So, if you add it up the way the regulators in India have, everything’s coming up roses for you and for me.
Sing your heart out, Ethel.
The writer is an expert in this field whose identity must remain confidential.